Winter Wildlands Alliance just wrapped up a weekend full of events: the world premiere of the 15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival, the Snowball fundraiser for SnowSchool, and the three-day Grassroots Advocacy Conference. In Boise, Idaho, the “Wild Weekend” was a chance to showcase all that happens in the Winter Wildlands Alliance office. But it was also an opportunity to connect people with each other, to share knowledge and experience, and to inspire.

This week, we are hosting our 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Boise, Idaho, and we couldn’t be more excited. It’s an opportunity to learn and to share alongside people who are passionate about public lands, recreation, the great outdoors, wild places.

This year’s theme is “Growing Equity on Public Lands.” We don’t have all the answers. But we want to ask questions. We want to learn. We want to hear about diverse experiences and perspectives. We want to absorb relevant information. We want to get everyone in the same room to have meaningful dialogue, to rumble with the hard things, so we can all take steps to make a positive impact. (And after all these deep conversations, you bet we’ll be kicking back and having fun at the World Premiere of the Backcountry Film Festival on Friday night. Come Saturday, we’re dressing up early for Halloween and doing the ski boot jig on the dance floor at Snowball.)

Here’s a look at some of the conversations that we’ll be having with a solid lineup of speakers who are joining us from across the country. They are community organizers, government employees, nonprofit workers, journalists, policy directors, professors, lawyers, scientists, tourism officials, and more. They are also skiers, paddlers, climbers, mountain bikers, hikers, mountain guides, fly fishers, among others.

Keynote by James Edward Mills
When: 6:30pm on Thursday, October 24, at the Basque Center
A journalist whose work specializes in stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, and sustainable living, James Edward Mills will start the conference with a keynote talk about “Growing Equity on Public Lands.”

There Is Room for Everyone—How to Embrace Diversity
When: 9am on Friday, October 25
Let’s keep the conversation going. Panelists include Jolie Varela, Justin Forrest Parks, Theresa Simsiman. Varela is a citizen of the Nüümü and Yokut Nations. She is the founder of Indigenous Women Hike. Forrest Parks is a climber, mountaineer, outdoor enthusiast and community advocate. He is the co-founder of Sending in Color and a coalition member at Diversify Outdoors. Simsiman is the California Stewardship Director for American Whitewater.

Planning the Future of Public Lands
When: 10am on Friday, October 25
This isn’t speculation. We will hear from people on-the-ground experience. Panelists include Alison Flint, the director of litigation and agency policy at The Wilderness Society; Francisco Valenzuela, a retired professional with the U.S. Forest Service who co-authored “Recreation Equity: Is the Forest Service serving its diverse publics?”; and Hilary Eisen, policy director at Winter Wildlands Alliance.

Messaging the Sacred
When: 11am on Friday, October 25
This is all about the bigger picture. Panelists include Charles Wolf Drimal of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition; Darren Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation; Midy Aponte, senior vice president of Spitfire Communications, where she works with foundations like World Resources Institute, Ford Foundation, and the Environmental Defense Fund; and Laura Yale, a Colorado-based filmmaker who has produced award-winning documentaries like Jumbo Wild and Treeline.

Wolverines and Winter Recreation
When: 1pm on Friday, October 25
Outdoor recreation has a big impact on wildlife. This presentation will look specifically at wolverines and winter recreation, led by Winter Wildlands Alliance Policy Director Hilary Eisen, who recently tracked wolverines in Mongolia. Eisen will be joined by Dr. Kimberly Heinemeyer, a scientist who studies the ecology of mid-sized carnivores in the Rocky Mountains.

Experiential Education: Passing the Knowledge
When: 2pm on Friday, October 25
Winter Wildlands Alliance Director of SnowSchool Kerry McClay will be leading this workshop, with Salome Mwangi, who works with the Idaho Office for Refugees.

How Do We Pay For It? New Strategies for Funding Public Lands
When: 9am on Saturday, October 26
A really good question, with insight from people who follow the money. Panelists include John Gardner, who is the senior director for budget and appropriations at National Parks Conservation Association; Louis Geltman, policy director at Outdoor Alliance; and Susan James, an avid pursuer of outdoor adventure with an unexpected career in public land management, most recently with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The Outdoor Economy: Is It Ruining the Outdoors?
When: 10am on Saturday, October 26
We can all agree that outdoor recreation is good thing, except when it runs smack into big issues like over-tourism, sustainability, and a lack of affordable housing. Our panelists approach this issue from every vantage: Lucy Kay, CEO of the Breckenridge Tourism Office; Danna Stroud, executive director of Travel Paso and formerly with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy; Todd Walton, executive director of Winter Wildlands Alliance with a career in PR in the outdoor industry; and Yoon Kim, founder of Outdoor Media Summit and Blogs for Brands.

E-Recreation: A Brave New World?
When: 11am on Saturday, October 26
E-bikes are no longer a fringe sport. They are shifting recreation on public lands. To help us understand what this means, and the stakes at hand, our panelists include Todd Keller, director of government affairs for the International Mountain Bicycling Association; Brad Brooks, acting senior director of agency policy and planning for The Wilderness Society; John Wentworth, member of the Town Council at Mammoth Lakes and chairman and CEO of the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation.

Climate Science Into Action: What Can We Do?
When: 1pm on Saturday, October 26
Empowering the audience with knowledge and opportunities for action, snow scientist and glaciologist Hans-Peter Marshall will be presenting with Kerry McClay, director of SnowSchool. The Marshall and McClay have sparked a partnership between NASA and Winter Wildlands Alliance, empowering kids to help scientists measure and monitor the snowpack.

Collaboration: Three Case Studies
When: 2pm on Saturday, October 26
This is how things get done. Panelists include Erik Murdock, policy director at the Access Fund; Mike Fiebig, river protection director for the Southwest U.S. at American Rivers; and Tony Ferlisi, executive director of Mountain Bike the Tetons.

Introducing the keynote speaker for the 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend: James Edward Mills

James Edward Mills, the keynote speaker for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, holds skis and walks over snow

Photo Credit: Courtesy James Edward Mills

A freelance journalist, James Edward Mills tells stories that often fall at the intersection of “outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living.” The author of The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors, Mills is a strong voice in our community and he’s written often about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoor industry. 

“When I started my career, the industry’s images, ads, stories, and videos were almost completely devoid of people who looked like me, and diversity was rarely, if ever, discussed,” wrote Mills in an article published on SNEWS in June. “Today the issue is recognized as one of the highest priorities we face as an industry and has not one but two acronyms (DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion and JEDI for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion). Corporate leaders uniformly agree: The business of outdoor recreation must adapt to the country’s changing demographics and culture.”

We want to continue the conversation at this year’s Grassroots Advocacy Conference with the theme: “Growing Equity in the Outdoors.” Following Mills’ keynote speech on Thursday evening, panels on Friday and Saturday will press into questions we need to address together. How do we make room for everyone in the outdoors? How do we empower grassroots people to make the changes they want to see in public lands? What can we all do about overtourism, the impacts of recreation on wildlands, and climate change? 

You don’t want to miss this conversation. James Edward Mills is the keynote speaker for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend. Buy tickets to see his talk on Thursday, October 24, at the Basque Center in Boise, Idaho. Register for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference now. 

Before we gather in Boise at the end of October, here’s some advanced reading. This is an excerpt from Mills’ blog, the Joy Trip Project, about the questions we can ask right now to make the outdoors more inclusive. 

James Edward Mills, keynote speaker of the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, wears a fur-lined snow jacket for protection from the cold

Photo Credit: Courtesy of James Edward Mills

This excerpt from Mills’ blog has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How do YOU make the outdoors more inclusive? 

By James Edward Mills

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For more than 50 years, with periodic amendments and additions of protected classes, discrimination in the workplace on the basis race, gender, age, sexual orientation, military service or disability has been probibited in both private and public institutions. For the lifetimes of most working adults, just about every job or profession has enjoyed the legal protection of being “an equal opportunity employer.”

And yet, a generation after this landmark initiative was signed into law, there are still wide disparities in the makeup of the U.S. workforce. In many professional environments—including banking, engineering, architecture and computer science—there remains a dearth of people of color, women, the disabled, and those who identify as LGBTQ as rank-in-file employees, middle managers, or senior executives. Though many sectors of our economy are making positive strides toward improving the diversity of job candidates, interns, trainees and permanent staff members, at least one major employer lags woefully behind.

The Outdoor Recreation Industry still has a lot of ground to make up in its ability to engage, recruit, and retain a workforce that reflects the demographic reality of the American public. 

Recognized as an annual contributor to the Gross Domestic Product in excess of 2 percent, the Outdoor Industry remains reliant upon both customers and employees that skew toward a constituency that is mostly male, white, college-educated, socially mobile, and middle to upper class. These companies and organizations are dedicated to providing goods and services to those who play outside, and yet they are failing to connect with an emerging population that is increasingly more brown, gender neutral or non-conforming, time-constrained, lower-income, and urban.

If the Outdoor Industry is going to survive this cultural shift of the American economy, most institutions will have to change their way of doing business. Though few, if any, have deliberately discriminated against under-represented members of the communities they serve, the time has come to actively reach out and embrace these minorities groups. Because in the foreseeable future, they will become the majority.

Many in the Outdoor Industry are now aware that they have a diversity problem. Retailers, manufacturers, outfitters, environmental nonprofits, and land management agencies have an interest in finding solutions that are substantive and sustainable. However, most are struggling to find best practices that are authentic and genuinely reflect their sincere desire to be equitable and inclusive of all people. Though some are doing a better job than others, there should be a few abiding principles upon which everyone can agree to begin and continue this very important work.

How do you make the outdoors more inclusive? What are we doing to make DEI in the outdoors a reality? I’m interested in hearing your stories. Share with me your struggles and challenges, your failures. What are your hopes and ambitions? How are you achieving them? What are your best practices? What does your success look like? 

James Edward Mills, keynote speaker for the grassroots advocacy conference, hikes across snow on backcountry skis

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

Here are a series of questions to individuals and executives across the outdoor industry. I want to know what is actually happening beyond the desire to change the face of the outdoors. I hope this can be a framework for broader discussion from which we can create real solutions. Let’s just have a conversation.

Start with a declaration of intent:

  • Why is DEI important to the long-term success of your business or organization?
  • What are your goals and aspirations? Not vague notions of an equitable work environment, but what your real quantifiable objectives?
  • How will you monitor and affirm your progress?

How do you reach and engage with your customers, members, or audience?

  • Where do you advertise? Who are your ambassadors?
  • Does your outward appearance reflect your intentions as an institution that values DEI?
  • Are you sensitive to the interests and values of all the people you aim to reach?

How do you recruit new hires and develop a workforce?

  • Where are you looking for new customers and new employees?
  • Are you presenting your organization with language and culturally relevant messaging that your target audience understands and embraces?
  • Does your internal culture reflect your intention to create a professional environment where everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate?

How do you retain employees?

  • What are you doing to keep the new customers and employees you have engaged?
  • Is your internal culture supportive of an individual’s ability to thrive and grow?
  • Do your customers and employees imagine a future with your organization? How are you helping them to secure that future?

How do you help employees and community grow?

  • Do you encourage mentoring?
  • Is there a clear path of matriculation from one rung of the career ladder to the next?

To read more of James Edward Mills’ work, check out his blog, The Joy Trip Project. And don’t forget to register for his keynote event at the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, part of our Wild Weekend, on Thursday, October 24, in Boise, Idaho. 


Never in the long history of our public lands system has there been such a broad array of serious, systemic threats—political, philosophical, economic and environmental. These are lands we all own together. Lands we all care about and depend on. How can we work together, starting at the grassroots level, to confront these threats, improve our approaches to public land management, improve access for all people, and at the same time ensure the long-term sustainability of natural landscapes and ecosystems?

We believe the first step is to host an inclusive gathering of colleagues, stakeholders and fellow activists to ask hard questions and talk solutions that will inspire and empower people to get involved in their public lands. 

Join us in Boise the last weekend of October for the Wild Weekend, a gathering that will equip you with knowledge and tools, connect you to a network of fellow outdoor enthusiasts and advocates for public lands, and fuel your excitement for the upcoming winter. Wild Weekend encompasses three keystone events: the Grassroots Advocacy Conference featuring keynote speaker James Edward Mills, Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere, and SnowSchool SnowBall. There will be speakers, ski movies, dancing, adventures, panels, and so much more. 

Here’s a rundown of everything we’ve got planned during the Wild Weekend. Choose from the Grassroots Conference, Backcountry Film Festival, SnowBall, or join us for all of it. Register now. 

The flyer for the Grassroots Conference, Wild Weekend, Backcountry Film Festival, and SnowSchool SnowBall

8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference 

October 24-27

Conference: $250

The theme of the conference is Growing Equity in Public Lands, and the goal is to empower as many people as possible to get involved in issues affecting public lands. 

Join policy makers, athletes, grassroots activists, scientists, educators, mountain guides, local elected officials and other recreation and conservation stakeholders and activists from across the country for a weekend full of engaging workshops and discussions on issues important to public lands, winter and sustainable recreation. Get the latest developments in policy and planning issues, share grassroots successes and strategies, meet with public land managers, gain new advocacy tools and spend quality time with colleagues, partners, new friends and allies. Help us find a way forward.

Thursday night’s keynote speaker is James Edward Mills, author of The Adventure Gap. Mills is an award-winning journalist and media producer whose work revolves around outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. 

On Friday and Saturday, panels will cover a spectrum of topics that dive right into the heart of the biggest issues facing public lands right now. Sessions include: Planning the Future of Public Lands; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on Public Lands; The Pros and Cons of the Outdoor Economy; Messaging the Sacred; Collaboration Case Studies; Climate Action; E-Recreation; Recreation and Wildlife; Experiential Education; and Finding Sustainable Funding for Public Lands.


The Backcountry Film Festival header is displayed during a snow storm

Photo: Dev Seefeldt

15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere

October 25, shows at 6:30pm and 9:30pm

Tickets: $20

For 15 years, Winter Wildlands Alliance has pressed play on the Backcountry Film Festival, an event that has raised more than $1.3 million for grassroots groups around the country. Join us for the world premiere, with films showcasing blissful powder turns, alpenglow across the mountains, stories about human-powered pursuits, and people who are passionate about protecting public lands. 

Stoke the vibe before the show or keep it going after a party from 7 to 9pm at The North Face store in downtown Boise, with live music, beer, and more fun. 

Film submissions are currently being accepted. If you have a short film that you’d like to submit to the Backcountry Film Festival, here are our submission guidelines. Stay tuned for the full lineup. 


Two people in white skirts dance in ski boots during the snowball fundraiser for the snowschool

SnowSchool SnowBall 

October 26, 7-11pm

Tickets: $30

Join the Idaho backcountry community for a semi-formal evening to celebrate the upcoming season. There will be live music by the Lonesome Jetboat Ramblers, plus dancing, craft beer, drinks, raffle items, and a food truck. Proceeds go to Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool, an educational program that introduces kids to human-powered winter recreation and teaches them about the snowpack. Each year, SnowSchool works with 35,000 children at 70 sites across the country. 



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